Torsten Schultz-Larsen – University of Copenhagen

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"If you want a career abroad, just get going!"

Torsten Schultz-Larsen, cand.scient in biochemistry – ph.d. student at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich Research Park, Norwich UK.  

Torsten Schultz-Larsen finished a master’s degree in biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen in 2008, but he wanted to continue to work with the research in programmed cell death which he started during his studies. He therefore chose to write a ph.d. but instead of staying in Copenhagen he went to Norwich where he ended up in one of the world’s best institutes for plant science.

The first step towards a career as a researcher

At the beginning, biochemistry was not what Torsten had expected it to be. There was a great focus on basic courses like chemistry, mathematics, biology and it was first later in the process that it became more biochemical.

It was not until he was at the master’s level he discovered what he wanted to work with. “If someone had asked me if I wanted to research and make a ph.d. about plants when I made my Bachelor’s dissertation, I would certainly have answered NO”, he tells laughing.

But an elective course in plant biology with great dynamics and interesting subjects meant that Torsten Schultz-Larsen began steering in that direction. At the same time he realized that there was a lot of good research within the field and that there were many opportunities career wise. That is why he chose to write his master’s dissertation about plants and cell death in plants – more specifically how plants’ immune systems work.

From Copenhagen to Norwich

After he got his master’s degree, Torsten Schultz-Larsen wanted to continue working with plant research, but he wanted to do it abroad. That’s why he wrote to a bunch of different laboratories with inquiring whether he could make his ph.d. with them.

" I thought that it would be very exiting to move from Denmark and experience a different culture. Honestly – Denmark is nice, but other countries are better

Torsten Schultz-Larsen

Torsten Schultz-Larsen ended in Norwich at The Sainsbury Laboratory which he won’t characterize as a typical English laboratory: “When I started here, we we’re 80 scientific staffers but only one Englishman, so it is a very international research environment”, he explains.

The immune system of plants

Torsten Schultz-Larsen has 18 months left of his ph.d. which takes four years in England including various written assignments.

At the moment he is researching the plant disease " Albugo candida " which among other things infects rape, broccoli and Brussels sprouts and it causes big problems in India where it kills up to 60 % of all rape crops.

“In the long run I hope that this insight we bring can be used in other contexts, but I do it just as much because it is fun as I do it to save the world”, Torsten notes.

" It’s not always fun to write a ph.d. when you find out that what you’ve been working on the last 3 months isn’t useable. It takes some time to get over!"

  Torsten Schultz-Larsen

Works 10-12 hours a day

Even though it has been hard having less contact to friends and family in Denmark, the ph.d.-studies in Norwich has given Torsten Schultz-Larsen a larger perspective on Denmark and how people work in other countries.

The biggest difference is probably working hours and work culture. “I work 10-12 hours a day, five days a week and then a day or a half during the weekend”, Torsten tells who also emphasizes how the work in the laboratory is very result oriented.

If you want to get a career abroad, the most important thing according to Torsten is just to get going. “It seemed impossible, but you just have to do it”, he says.

Use your gut feeling

Torsten Schultz-Larsen has already had a lot of positive experiences with his ph.d.-studies in England and he recommends therefore others who wish to go in that direction to just go for it. “You can always go back if it isn’t for you”, he makes clear.

" Use your gut feeling, I think that’s important. If you’re about to do something which you think won’t turn out good, then just don’t do it!"

  Torsten Schultz-Larsen

Whether Torsten continues in academics or goes into the business world and whether it is in Denmark or abroad it still not certain. But as Torsten emphasizes: “I have discovered that almost no matter where you are in the world, you and the people around you are the same”.